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DSL vs. Cable Internet

With a few differences, both cable and DSL broadband internet providers offer high-speed internet that is easy to get anywhere in the United States.

With DSL, data is sent over phone lines, while cable internet uses your cable TV lines.

DSL is the most common way to get online, but it is slower than cable and can be even slower depending on how far you are from your ISP.

Cable internet is faster than DSL, but it slows down a lot when the network is busy. DSL, on the other hand, doesn’t have to share network bandwidth.

In this guide, we’ll talk about the differences between DSL and cable internet. We’ll talk about how each one works, what speeds you can expect from cable and DSL, and how to choose the best connection for you.

What’s the Difference Between DSL vs. Cable?

DSL, which stands for “digital subscriber line,” is a type of internet that sends information between your internet service provider (ISP) and your computer or another connected device over the landline telephone network. The phone lines are made up of copper wires that use electric currents to send and receive packets of data.

Cable internet works the same way as cable TV. It sends data over the same kind of coaxial cables that connect your TV to the wall. (This is also why cable companies often sell internet and TV services together, and why DSL companies will do the same with phone bundles.) These cables use copper wires to send and receive electricity, just like DSL phone lines. This is a big difference between these two types of internet and fiber internet, which sends information by sending light pulses through glass-filament fiber-optic cables.

But don’t think that DSL is the same as dial-up internet. Dial-up uses the same frequencies in your phone line as voice calls, which makes it hard to use both the internet and your phone at the same time. DSL, on the other hand, works on a different set of frequencies than voice calls. That means you can go on the Internet as much as you want and still listen to Aunt Karen’s weekly chat.

Cable vs. DSL Internet: Speeds


Cable DSL
Avg.Download Speed 20-500Mbps 30-100Mbps
Avg.Upload Speed 5-50Mbps 1-10Mbps
Latency 100ms 100ms


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DSL can sometimes reach speeds of up to 100Mbps, but most downloads will happen at around 35Mbps. For example, Windstream’s Premium Kinetic Internet 500 plan offers speeds of up to 500Mbps for downloads, but only in certain areas. For most customers, speeds will be between 50 and 100Mbps.

On the other hand, cable internet speeds can go up to 1Gbps, which is just as fast as fiber internet. These kinds of incredibly fast downloads aren’t the norm, though. Most plans offer speeds between 25Mbps and 400Mbps.

The amount of time between sending a signal to your ISP and getting a response back from it is the same for both cable and DSL: 100 milliseconds (ms). Because of how they both send information, speeds are often under 25ms for both of them.

Other Cable and DSL Speed Factors

The distance between your home and your ISP is a unique factor that affects DSL internet speeds. The farther you are from the central signal, the slower your speeds will be, including your latency speed.

Even though cable doesn’t depend on distance, it does depend on how busy the network is. Depending on the size of your neighborhood, anywhere from 100 to 2,000 homes could share your internet connection. When everyone is streaming, browsing, and playing games at the same time, your speeds will slow down a lot.

Cable vs. DSL Internet: Availability & Reliability

DSL is a little easier to use and more reliable than cable internet. DSL is the most common way to connect to the internet around the world. In the United States, 90% of people use DSL. This is because there is a huge infrastructure for phone networks all over the country. In fact, DSL is often the only choice in rural areas where cable lines can’t reach because of the terrain or because the area is too far away.

As was already said, DSL doesn’t share bandwidth as cable internet does. This means that there isn’t as much traffic, which can lead to lower priority and slower speeds. And because technical problems with landline phone networks are rare, DSL is considered “always on.” This makes it one of the most reliable ways to get online, as long as your phone line isn’t broken.

Still, after DSL, cable is the most common type of high-speed internet connection. It uses the nearly everywhere-present and usually reliable cable TV infrastructure across the country. If you can get cable TV where you live, you can also get a cable internet plan.

DSL vs. Cable Internet: Cost

Most cable and DSL internet plans cost about the same, and both types of providers offer a wide range of plans at different price points to fit every budget. DSL internet plans can’t reach the speeds of cable internet plans, so they can’t get as expensive as cable plans.

Compare the prices of plans with the same maximum download speeds. AT&T’s Internet 100 DSL plan and Spectrum’s Internet 100Mbps plan both have a maximum download speed of 100Mbps. However, your actual speeds will depend on things like network congestion (for cable) or your distance from your ISP (for DSL).

Just watch out for the data caps that come with both DSL and cable internet plans. Two plans may offer the same speeds for the same price, but one may limit the amount of high-speed data you can use each month by a lot.

Pros & Cons of Cable vs. DSL Internet

Pros Cable Internet:

  • Faster speeds than DSL
  • Widely available nationwide
  • Affordable for a variety of budgets
DSL Internet:

  • Available everywhere, even in rural or remote areas
  • No sharing bandwidth with other users
  • Affordable for a variety of budgets
Cons Cable Internet:

  • Slowdowns are more frequent during peak usage
  • Often not accessible to rural customers
DSL Internet:

  • Slower average speeds than cable
  • Greater distance from ISP = slower speed

Should I Get DSL or Cable Internet?

Part of the answer to this question is whether or not you can get cable internet where you live. If you live in a rural area and can’t get cable internet, your best options are DSL and satellite internet.

If you have both cable and DSL in your area, the main thing that will likely set them apart is how fast your internet is. Households that use a lot of technology and like to stream will benefit from cable’s faster download and upload speeds. However, keep in mind that your speed will slow as you add more users to your connection, which is something DSL doesn’t have to deal with. If you’re worried about traffic, a lot of DSL providers have plans with speeds between 50 and 100Mbps, which should be fast enough for most homes that use the internet normally.

Cable is best for:

  • Multi-device households that need faster speeds to support higher use
  • Users that don’t have landline connections in their homes
  • Customers who already have TV service and can save by bundling

DSL is best for:

  • Rural customers without access to cable
  • Households that prefer a direct line rather than sharing bandwidth
  • Customers looking for decent speeds on a budget

Home Internet Plans

When looking for home internet, make sure to check the speed, price, and any data limits that come with each plan. And most importantly, make sure the plan is available where you live. You can use our online search tool to find out. Just type in your address to see only the plans in your area.

For now, here are some of the best internet plans for both cable and DSL. Centurylink, Windstream, and AT&T are all popular DSL providers, and ISPs like Spectrum, Xfinity, and Cox offer a wide range of cable internet plans.

Key differences between DSL vs Cable

Let’s look at some big differences between DSL and cable. :

Now that we know what DSL and cable internet connections are and can compare them to each other, it’s time to look at the differences between the two so we can make the right decision when we have to choose between the two.

The first thing we’ll look at to compare our two candidates is the genre they both belong to. In this case, just to set up the idea that shared connections mean that the same connection is used by more than one subscriber, we can say that the same connection is shared. If we use our analogy to think about that phone line, it should only be used by one home. On the other hand, a cable may run through the whole neighborhood. When we had cable TV, everyone in the neighborhood got the same channel, whether they wanted to watch it or not. So, we can say that DSL is a connection that is not shared, while Cable is a connection that is shared.

The second genre grows out of the first as fast as the internet. Now, in our last discussion, we learned that DSL is not a shared connection, but Cable is. Since Cable is a shared connection, internet speeds might slow down when a lot of people are using it at the same time, like in the evening. DSL connections, on the other hand, would have the same speeds during peak hours as during off-peak hours. There is another way to look at how fast the internet is. Most DSL connections can only go as fast as 6-7 Mbps, while cable internet can go as fast as 105 or even 150 Mbps (For the ones with Fiber Optics). Also, with DSL connections, the speed starts to slow down as you move away from the main ISP hub.

The third thing we would look at is the price, which is really the first thing someone would look at if they didn’t have much money. This point is also very personal because it depends on things like the availability of internet options in your area, the provider you’re looking for, and whether or not the market is already full. But if we have to compare like with like and all other things are the same, DSL is less expensive than cable connections.

Last but not least, the genre is about the kind of place where the connections work best. In this case, DSL is the way to go if you want to use the internet lightly to moderately, have three or fewer connections at once, and are concerned about your budget. But if you use the internet a lot for things like online gaming, backing up large files to the cloud, and big data analytics and you’re not too worried about your budget, Cable is the best choice.

Comparison Table of DSL vs Cable

Genre DSL Cable

Shared Connection DSL doesn’t have a concept of shared connection, and the line of connection is solely for you As cable runs through neighborhoods, it has a concept of shared connection.

Internet Speeds The internet speeds don’t fluctuate much with external factors like many other people using the internet simultaneously. But on the other hand, the speeds are comparably lesser than Cable. At peak times, the internet speed might go down and may keep fluctuating, but in other scenarios, the speeds are quite higher than DSL, somewhere in the order of 105 Mbps.

Pricing Comparably cheaper in comparison to Cable Comparably costlier option.

Usage points It is mainly used for cases when there is light usage, with not many concurrent connections and not heavy continuous uploads and downloads. It is mainly used for cases when there are heavy uploads or downloads, avid online gamers, and continuous backing up of heavy files to the cloud.


As a final note, it’s important to understand the real need for the Internet so that we can decide for ourselves what the best choice is for the job and how much it will cost. In the end, if you only use the internet occasionally and don’t need much, DSL is your best bet for fast internet. If you use the internet a lot, though, Cable is the way to go.



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